Facebook moderators were reportedly pressured by their employer Genpact to return to office despite safety concerns over the ongoing coronavirus-induced pandemic. Genpact, a third-party contracting firm that handles Facebook’s moderation operations, has reportedly been asking its employees to return to its offices in Hyderabad as early as July. Genpact claimed that most parts of Facebook’s moderation services needed be performed in office due to privacy issues and other technical hurdles. The report also cited some senior moderators from the firm who said that their jobs were at risk if they chose not to return to the workplace.
According to a report by Rest of World, Genpact asked employees to return to the office located in Hyderabad’s tech hub, HITEC City. Genpact is one of the firms that Facebook outsources to take care of its moderation operations around the world. The firm employs close to 1,600 Facebook moderators, as per the report.
Claiming that Facebook’s moderation services needed to be taken care of while operating from office due to privacy and technical concerns, Genpact told Rest of World that in-office work was done voluntarily. “To make this manageable, safe, and clear, employees need to sign a weekly form that asks them to voluntarily agree to this,” a Genpact spokesperson said.
The publication also spoke to four current and former Genpact employees, who anonymously said that moderators were asked to return to office as early as July to “to tackle sensitive content, including posts involving child exploitation, suicide, and other matter that could lead to real-world harm.” India had imposed strict lockdown rules between March to May as a preventive measure against COVID-19. By July, the country had entered its second phase of unlock, Unlock 2.0, when certain restrictions were eased but lockdown measures were still imposed in containment zones and night curfews were still in effect in most areas.
The report also cited a senior moderator at Genpact who said that employees were informed that their jobs could be at risk should they choose not to return to office. “The operations team told them these are important orders. There’s a threatening factor behind [it]. People are forced to go to work, even if they are not happy to,” said the moderator. Gadgets 360 reached out to Genpact for a response (see company statement below).
Back in August, Facebook allowed its corporate employees (non-third party) to continue to work from home until July 2021 due to the pandemic and will give them $1,000 (roughly Rs. 75,000) for home office needs. Other tech giants including Google have also taken similar steps to ensure employee safety.
A Facebook spokesperson told Gadgets 360, “Our focus for reopening any office is on how it can be done in a way that keeps our reviewers safe. To do this we are putting strict health and safety measures in place, making sure they’re followed, and addressing and disclosing any confirmed cases of illness.”
Update (7:30pm IST): Facebook issued a clarification that disagrees with the report. The company told Gadgets 360 that “all reviewers currently working in-office in India have done so on an opt-in basis. Anyone wishing to continue working from home has been able to do so with no impact on their pay and benefits.Facebook and our partners are meeting or exceeding guidance on maintaining a safe workspace and a wide variety of additional health and safety measures are put in place for anyone returning to the office.”
It also added that “some types of content can only be done by reviewers in-office and that review is important to keeping our platforms safe.”
(9:55pm IST): Genpact issued a clarification saying that returning to office was “strictly voluntary” and that employees would not see any impact on pay or benefits. Here’s the full statement from a Genpact spokesperson:
Since the beginning of COVID-19, we have prioritised employee safety above all else and we will continue to do so. There is a very small population of employees in India who have opted-in to voluntarily return to the office to provide critical content moderation services. We continue to reinforce that this is strictly voluntary and employees deciding not to return to the office will see no impact whatsoever on benefits, pay, or status. While this is limited to a small percentage of overall employees, we continue to take extra steps to ensure that this is clear and properly understood.
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